Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that setting goals and self-discipline are important but you need to leave doors and windows open to the unexpected. [Serendipity and dancing in the Mystery takes you to wonders that all your plans and willful intent would have you ignore….]
I am having a problem explaining “serendipity,” I think. And the Jungian concept of “synchronicity” (which is closely related), is a complex mind-boggling morass of interrelated concepts with weird names that grew out of Carl Gustav Jung’s study of “meaningful coincidences.”
Jung was the early 20th century Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is credited with founding analytical psychology. (He was also a full-blown mystic and a lot of his musings on the inner workings of the mind and of Life-Its-Own-Self get really “out there.”)
Not a help.
Maybe I’m approaching this thing wrong.
I’m trying to do the Scholar/pseudo-Scientist thing on it.
Instead of driving myself nuts trying to herd these distinctly counterintuitive, non-linear concepts onto a slide and sticking them under a metaphoric microscope so you can look at them wriggling all around, I’m going to do the Poet on them and try to get them to do a stomp-dance.
LET’S DO THIS….
The thing is, those fifty-dollar words are just names for shiny, startling, free-floating bits in the matrix of what we call “Real”. These bits tend to land on us when we least expect it. Some of these surprising bits are joyous and light. Others can be pretty heavy-duty challenges.
These days we tend to think of serendipity as the happier bits — little surprises that delight us or that answer some need of ours for a thing for which we’ve been intently searching.
One of my favorite definitions of “serendipity” comes from William McKeen, PhD, a journalist and teacher who has written nine books and edited four more. The definition is also one of the simplest to understand, I think.
He says, “Serendipity is defined as the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally.”
McKeen’s job, he says, is trying to make people think. In an article posted in the New York Times Archives, when he was the Chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida, McKeen tells the story of how he challenged the students in his freshman classes at the University by requiring each of them to subscribe to the New York Times Monday through Friday.
He told the students that he expected them to read through the dailies as a matter of routine and to use the things when they did their research rather than just going on-line and sorting through the front-page stuff that’s cherry-picked by assorted editors and other experts for “relevance” or weightiness or whatever.
Ignoring the groans and moans of his students, the professor required them to engage in the messiness of Life-Its-Own-Self, as documented by folks who are paid to go look at the lives around them and turn what they see into stories, day in and day out.
Because, he said, if you only use the admittedly wonderful variety and diverse resources available to you online, then “you would only find what you are looking for.”
Internet searches tend to be targeted. You enter some key words into a search engine and you can pretty much find exactly what you are looking for. Sometimes there are irritating misses if you haven’t gotten your search parameters right, but you can work your way through all the way to your goal pretty quickly.
(In my research for this thing, for example, I learned that “Serendipity” is also a type of nail-polish styling method and got a lot of tips on how to do it myself. Hmmm.)
This directed searching thing is an excellent tool. It saves a lot of time.
However, it does come at a cost. As McKeen puts it, “When you know what you want – or think you do – you lose the adventure of discovery, of finding something for yourself.”
I think you also lose (or never find) your own voice.
Wandering around in the back pages of a good newspaper can be like browsing through the back shelves of an old library or in a good bookstore. You can find amazing stuff there.
McKeen contends that it’s the stories buried in the back of the dailies – in the business section, the sports section, the lifestyle sections or the obituary page — that can add nuance and richness, value and content to your stash of factoids that you can dip into to help direct and spur and refine your own thinking and your ways of seeing the world.
I was pleased to note that McKeen’s books include EVERYBODY HAD AN OCEAN: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles (2017), OUTLAW JOURNALIST: The Life and Times of Hunter Thompson (2008), and TOM WOLFE (1995). Intriguing topics, all.
SERENDIPITY, INNOVATION AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF
Here’s a video featuring Jason Silva, my favorite free-style stomp-dancer in the world of ideas. It was published in 2014 by Shots of Awe and tells us that serendipity results from mashing up a bunch of ideas together and seeing what falls out.
Surprise and startling insights are distinct possibilities when you start mashing stuff together.
Sometimes, as Silva points out so playfully, serendipity involves a moment of insight, the “’aha’ moment” that has since been made popular by communicator-extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey.
You see or experience something that catalyzes an insight which blossoms in your head and helps you find the most elegant answer to a question over which you have been beating that head against a wall.
You pick up a book from the discount table at your neighborhood bookstore and it falls open to a page with a significant passage that changes your perspective on a problem, for instance.
Something your little girl says or a conversation overheard while waiting in line starts a train of thought that leads to your writing a pretty good poem or article or even a novel.
That “aha” moment can spark an innovative idea that propels you forward in a new direction. You slog along looking for something and you either find just what you needed or you find something better.
Many inventions were the result of serendipitous insights. Things like penicillin, Post-It notes, and the telephone would not exist if the people who developed them hadn’t detoured or made mistakes while pursuing other goals.
In 1928, for example, Alexander Fleming was actively looking for a new antibiotic. He returned from a vacation and found that penicillin juice left in petri-dishes that should have been washed while he was gone was apparently killing off bacteria.
Alexander Graham Bell’s microphone, first tested in 1876, was a detour that led him to develop his telephone. At the time Bell thought he was developing a new kind of hearing aid.
Post-It notes were born in 1974 when Arthur Fry figured out that he could use the low-tack pressure sensitive adhesive accidentally developed in 1968 by fellow 3M employee Spencer Silver. Until Fry came up with the idea of using Silver’s glue-that-wouldn’t-stay-stuck as a non-damaging way to hold bookmarks in his hymnal so that he could find the songs he was supposed to be singing as a member of the choir at his church, the not-exactly-glue was an idea that had not worked.
The ever-growing list of these kinds of accidental inventions goes on and on.
SERENDIPITY AND OUR RELATIONSHIPS
Many of us meet our most meaningful relationships – a spouse, friend, business partners, mentors, or life-changing personal connections – from chance encounters.
Often serendipitous events, like running into an old pal with whom you’ve lost touch, can work wonders for your psyche. Old friends can remind you of dreams you’ve allowed to go dormant. Sometimes those old dreams get resurrected or revived with good results. (Either that, or you thank your lucky stars that you gave up on that old thing and are way more appreciative of the life you’ve built instead.)
Sometimes a chance encounter might open doors that were closed to you or help you find a True Companion who wants to join you on your quest. Sometimes you meet a new person who “gets” you.
In this very short TED talk, “Inviting Serendipity To Your Life”, management consultant and author John Hagel tells the story of how Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired magazine found the CTO of his drone aircraft technology company while participating in an internet forum.
The talk was filmed at TED University in 2011 and published by the TED Archive guys on YouTube in 2018.
AND WHY SHOULD YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT THIS STUFF?
Okay. Let’s say you are not a researcher, a scholar or an inventor, and you have no ambitions to be an artist, a performer, a writer or an entrepreneur. Maybe you’re a regular sort of workaday minion, living out your days in the best way you can and not at all unhappy with your lot in life.
Why should you care about this stuff?
Let’s parse this out.
All kinds of studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the way we see the world and how we feel emotionally. Other studies (and all kinds of wise guys down through the ages) have told us that the way we feel affects how we move in the world which then affects how the world responds to us and so on and so forth.
It does seem to indicate that being open to discovering new ways of thinking could have a very real effect on us and on the life each of us lives.
In this 2016 TEDx Talk, personal development coach and author Paul Hannaman talks about his concept of “Everyday Serendipity” at the TEDx event at the University of Brighton.
Hannaman’s book, THE WISDOM OF GROUNDHOG DAY: How to Improve Your Life One Day at a Time, is actually a life-action plan based on the “hidden, underlying roadmap to freedom” found in a popular romantic comedy film, Groundhog Day, which was written by screenwriter Danny Rubin.
AND NOW FOR SYNCHRONICITY….
That looks like a wrap on “serendipity”.
Now, for a (very) short and probably misguided look at “synchronicity.”
It is interesting to note that while the bit about “serendipity” in the “Best Answer” from the Yahoo Answers online forum archives for a query about “the difference between serendipity and synchronicity” is succinct and pretty much right on, the part about “synchronicity” gets lost in a lot of verbiage that leaves you scratching your head.
I agree with the Yahoo guy’s definition of “serendipity”. He says it’s “finding something unexpected and useful while searching for something else.”
Then he goes on to say that “synchronicity” is a “word coined by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung to describe the temporally coincident occurences of acausal events….” Huh?
I say that synchronicity is more like strong currents or riptides in the flow of the life-energy around us or like amazing, illogical, sideways quantum leaps of one sort or another that may not always be such delightful and gladsome surprises as the serendipity things, but which do seem to invariably lead to significant changes in our perceptions of the world we live in.
They happen. We cope. The new ways of seeing that we discover as a result of synchronicity can take us to some other unplanned-for space that’s a decided improvement on where we were.
Those of us with a bent toward the woo-woo like to think that serendipity and synchronicity are evidence of the fact that Life-Its-Own-Self is a grand Mystery of the finest kind.
In the words of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Good question, huh? Maybe serendipity and synchronicity can help you figure out your own answers to it.
Here’s a poem:
THE WORLD (ACCORDING TO YOU)
What IS that?
The World (according to you)
Comes equipped with a set of rules and regs
That surround you with hurdles built of solid P.C. bricks
Set in a mine-field of P’s and Q’s, I’s to dot and T’s to cross.
How do you MOVE in a world like that,
Where at every misstep on this crooked trail
Of shoulda’s, coulda’s, and might-have-beens
There’s a maze of dead ends and deader conversations?
How does it work for you
When you do not dare take your eyes off your feet
Because the ground you’re walking is just studded
With assorted cantrips of “polite” and “correct”?
Can you see through the veils of other-people thoughts
That tramp on through your head,
Squelching every impulse to giggle and laugh out loud
At the fables of this silly World?
Auwe, my sistah, auwe!
So sad, my braddah….
Can you even taste the heady wine
of freedom…of change
That floats through this Universe like a river?
Or does the bitterness in your mouth obscure that joy?
Auwe, auwe, auwe….
by Netta Kanoho
SOME OTHER POSTS TO EXPLORE:
(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)
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